As recounted by Wayne Cristaudo ( Religion, Redemption and Revolution: The New Speech Thinking Revolution of Franz Rozenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy ), Rosenstock-Huessy took Emil Brunner to takes for his adoption of the “protestant myth” about a fall of the church in the fourth century. According to this myth, “Constantine swallowed the Church” and as a result “Christianity became fictitious.” Rosenstock thinks this mistaken for “two reasons, one subjective, one objective.”

Subjectively, “Emil Brunner owes everything he believes, not to some ‘source’ Christianity but to the martyrs and saints and the dogmatic ‘quibblers’ and the monks and Father who all ‘succumbed to the temptation’ and went fictitious in Brunner’s terms.” This “itch to kick against that which made us, is unworthy of our short time of grace during which we are still able to discuss our faith” (quoted p. 207).

Brunner’s perspective misses the fertility of the conflicts that Constantine’s conversion inevitably unleashed.

Cristaudo summarizes Rosenstock’s argument: “those who focus on the corruption of the Church from Constantine on are neglecting the great revolutionary struggles that the Church unleashed precisely because it was no so completely captivated. Without Constantine, no Gregory v. Henry, and for Rosenstock the battle of the Investiture crisis was the founding Revolution of the west.

More importantly, the process was just the opposite of what Brunner thinks: “In 300 and 400, the Church was not swallowed by the emperor, but the Church as the salvation of all sinners, swallowed the greatest sinner of all, the man-God Caesar. Only ‘Protestants’ . . . may shun the simple question: What else could she do? Christians cannot, because the Church was founded for sinners.” By the baptism of the emperor, the Church accomplished two things: “With a man-God, Caesar, not on the altar but in the pew, the dogma of the Trinity had to make it impossible for Arius and his life ever to confuse this form man-God in the pew with the God-man on the altar. All the dogmatic quarrels about the Trinity were the immediate consequence of Caesar’s baptism. In other words: the Church did not ‘succumb to the Constantinian temptation,’ as Brunner says, but overcame it by concentrating on the trinitarian dogma as long as the emperors were dangerously powerful . . . . The real temptation being Caesar’s divinity, not the established church.”

The church fought every effort by the emperor to swallow it up with the weapon of dogma: Jesus was the last of the divine sons who ruled the world, the only-begotten Son of the living God (213). Bringing Caesar into the church brought dangers. Trinitarian theology was the church’s way of overcoming those dangers.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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